When you think of an island, you think of long stretches of the white shore; you picture sea shells strewn about, you imagine waves crashing against rocks, you dream of exotic fruits growing on trees, and yes, the big one – isolation. But not all islands offer such vistas or such space. Take the island city of Mumbai, for example. With a population touching 24 million, with 700 new vehicles hitting the roads daily, the absence of bus lines and bike lanes, unending metro construction and the newly commissioned coastal road work – Mumbai is anything but an island you’d like to be stranded on. Or cycling through. Right?
Truth be told, there are comrades out there who take to the roads on their cycles every single day. Not just adding years to their lives, but also increasing the earth’s life-span through this environmentally conscious choice.
So, who are these people pushing the pedal day after day? What motivates them? What are the risks involved, really? What does their daily trip and their long-term journey look like? Are they from another planet? Or are they just doing their quiet bit to save this planet?
In the day and age of status updates, let’s just review the status of cycling and cyclists in Mumbai city.
The cyclists of Mumbai:
Based on our research, we have divided Mumbai’s cyclists into few broad categories. And created a fictional prototype in each category to offer a better understanding.
The Expat Cyclist: Let’s just call him Mark. He is from Berlin. He works as an art curator in India. He lives in Fort and works in Nariman Point. Back home in Berlin, he would cycle to work everyday. He has carried this habit forward to India and is the only one in his workplace who cycles to work. He owns a good quality cycle; he purchased it from Bandra, complete with gears and a helmet. He follows all traffic rules and often muses about his experiences on social media. A nature lover, Mark thinks Mumbaikars are very helpful towards cyclists. Another colleague of his has been feeling inspired enough to join Mark.
The Student Cyclist: Sumedha cycles to her professional institute in Bandra every single day. She lives in Andheri. She has chosen this mode of transport for purely monetary reasons. Her daily expenses of vada-pav, stationary, books, and a little bit shopping leaves her with very little scope of conveyance money. She doesn’t wear a helmet and the cycle she rides is an old one – it’s a hand me down from her brother. She makes it to college in 30 minutes, while her other public transport friends lag behind by a good half an hour. She saves money; she saves time and a little bit of the Earth.
The Healthy Cyclist.Rahul is in his early forties. He is a Voice Over Artiste. Having done the round-the-clock drill for many years and a health scare later, he has decided to elevate his fitness levels. He rediscovered his love for cycling (something he loved during college) and invested in a nice, expensive ‘bike’ that he can now afford. Rahul’s work doesn’t require him to go to office wearing a corporate suit and so he hops from one studio to other in Khar on his cycle. It keeps him fit. He has been seeing a major change in his health.
The Activist Cyclist:Rhea graduated from Boston, moved back to India, took up a corporate job, quit in six months, trained in Ashtanga Yoga, become a yoga teacher and began a small NGO that works towards making Mumbai greener. All of 23, Rhea celebrated her last birthday by using crowd-sourced funds to plant 1000 trees on the outskirts of Mumbai. Rhea cycles everywhere purely because she wants to do her bit for the planet.
Although demographically apart, each of these categories at some point converge, – either at a flash-mob, or in a night biking tour; or for that matter, over the weekend – cycling through the city.
Their main struggles:
- Poor roads: Meant nothing like a compliment, Mumbai sometimes feels like the moon. Bumpy, full of craters. The roads through the city have been operated upon and not all of them are stitched back yet. Add to that, potholes punctuate the city. As a cyclist on the way to work or even on a leisure ride, this road condition is a highly risky proposition.
- Unsupportive weather: Coastal Mumbai gets unbearably humid in the summer months and receives copious amounts of rain during monsoon. Landing up at a meeting with sweat patches in the summer and mud-stained pants when it rains is a huge drawback.
- Unsafe parking: The lack of secure bike storage is also a consideration. Existing bikers are scared of theft and new bikers feel discouraged due to this reason.
Hope in the future:
The biggest and the most important step is to keep the narrative going. To shed light on the negatives and highlight the positive. To speak up. To write. To publicize. To use the power of social media for attracting attention. To keep riding the path until the government and the concerned authorities are forced to notice the ignored cyclist on the road. Better roads, designated cycling lanes, safe parking, shower facilities at office and more than everything, an understanding that the road doesn’t just belong to the four-wheeler.
Join the wave:
You can take your first step by signing up for a night cycling tour . That apart, you can also search online for cycling to work groups, cycling on weekend groups, cycling workout groups and if you are the sort who enjoys a good look at the filmistars – you can head to bandstand and stalk your favourite celebrity on two wheels – many of them come there and peddle their way into Arabian sea sunsets.